Frost Moon

Frost Moon

Anthony Francis

March 2010  $17.95
ISBN: 978-0-9843256-8-9

Dakota Frost can make tattoos come alive.
And that's what may get her killed.

Our PriceUS$17.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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In an alternate Atlanta where magic is practiced openly, where witches sip coffee at local cafes, shapeshifters party at urban clubs, vampires rule the southern night like gangsters, and mysterious creatures command dark caverns beneath the city, Dakota Frost's talents are coveted by all. She's the best magical tattooist in the southeast, a Skindancer, able to bring her amazing tats to life. When a serial killer begins stalking Atlanta's tattooed elite, the police and the Feds seek Dakota's help. Can she find the killer on the dark fringe of the city's Edgeworld? Among its powerful outcasts and tortured loners, what kind of enemies and allies will she attract? Will they see her as an invader, as a seducer, as an unexpected champion ... or as delicious prey?

FROST MOON is Book One of the SKINDANCER fantasy series by debut author Anthony Francis. Filled with unforgettable characters, spine-tingling action, kinky rebellion and edgy love, FROST MOON is classic storytelling at its best, and Dakota Frost is an irresistible new star of fantasy fiction.

Anthony Francis is a computer scientist who works at the 'Search Engine That Starts With A G'. By day he studies human and other minds to design intelligent machines and emotional robots; by night he writes fiction and draws comic books. He received his Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence from Georgia Tech. He lives in San Jose with his wife and cats but his heart will always belong in Atlanta.


"Magical tattoos? I'm there! The world building is awesome in this book! I loved this book and I can't wait to read the next book in the series ... paranormal/fantasy with awesome kick ass heroines!" -- Julie Witt, In Julie’s Opinion

"I was pulled in right from the start. . .can't wait to read the next book!" -- Jen Brust, Goodreads

"Frost Moon was an interesting beginning to a dark and gritty urban fantasy series…the author wasn't afraid to take chances with the storyline which I really liked…a very enjoyable beginning to this urban fantasy series. It was darker than I expected and very unique which added to my enjoyment of the novel. I'm looking forward to continuing on with this series.... :) Recommended!" -- Samantha Atkin, Sam's Book Blog

"The characters that Mr. Francis has created are unique, interesting and multi-faceted, and the plot flows smoothly. This book is a page-turner…" -- Katy Sozaeva, Shelfari

"Any time the "Men in Black" turn out to be the "good guys" you know the story is turned inside-out-sideways but you're in for a load of fun. Spend some quality time with Dakota Frost, you'll be glad you did." -- Marlene Harris, Reading Reality

" ... gritty, rough, [and] fantastic... I was completely captivated by page one. ." -- Natasha Armstrong, Net Galley

"Snappy, smart, snarky Dakota Frost, the skindancing tattoo artist of Frost Moon is a winner from the get-go in the first book of this series. I cannot wait to get my hands on the other novels as they flow off the press!” -- Deborah Privett, A Bookish Libraria

"Fans of Karen Chance and Patricia Briggs will easily connect with Dakota Frost and her magical Atlanta world...The story line grabs your attention and keeps you reading." -- Sharon Green, Barnes and Noble Reviewer

"The sharp and witty dialogue is a consistent from the first page to the last. The world is a fresh and gritty take on the supernatural world..." -- Michelle Latiolais, Reading Lark

"...Dakota Frost is an irresistible new star of fantasy fiction." -- Amanda, Paranormal Romance

"The plot twists and turns were unexpected and thrilling; the secondary characters were intriguing and scary; the setting was fascinating--everything about this book worked for me." -- Carla Thomas, I Know Good Books

"Adrenaline pumping... my heart beat skipped a few beats while I was flipping [through] the pages." -- Elizabeth Toh, Over A Cuppa Tea

"[A] fascinating tale that has many creative twists in a story that has plenty of action and wonderful secondary characters. Intricate relationships between the different factions of the city as well as inventive treatments of tattoos, air vehicles, were-beings and the architecture of a truly underground Atlanta make this a unique and entertaining read." -- Elf, Night Owl Reviews

"Dakota's take no prisoners' investigation provides readers with the vivid vision of Anthony Francis' Atlanta Underground inside an exhilarating thriller." -- Harriet Klausner – Genre Go Round Reviews

"Let me warn readers that they are going to be blown away. Frost Moon is one of a kind and pure genius. I devoured this book in one night... Definitely worth the loss of sleep because there was no way I was going to stop reading Frost Moon once I started." -- Book Lovers, Inc. Blog

"Frost Moon is a choice and fascinating pick that shouldn't be overlooked for fantasy readers." -- Midewest Book Review

"Dakota Frost is a kick-a$$ character and unique in a genre filled with kick-a$$ protagonists!...A dark and gritty Urban Fantasy with rich characters, a great "hair-pin turns" plot, and enough tension and danger to keep you on the edge of your seat madly flipping pages to find what happens." -- Sidhe Vicious Reviews

"You got me Anthony Francis, you got me! Frost Moon is an exciting Urban Fantasy that starts off strong and keeps up the steam throughout. Anthony Francis has created an interesting take on the usual paranormal world incorporating magic and mysticism into a dangerous world where both humans and paranormals live side by side." -- Fiction Vixen blog

"...a kickass Urban Fantasy! ...This is a SUPERB Urban Fantasy/paranormal amateur sleuth mystery start of a series!!!" -- Vixen's Daily Reads blog

"I am hard-pressed to adequately describe the latest book to be shifted in my direction for review. Thank you to the powers- that-be for the opportunity to be one of the first readers captivated by Dakota Frost and her magical tats. Addictive, sassy, sexy, funny, intense, brilliant..... any and all of these adjectives describe not only the book itself but Anthony Francis' tall, bi-sexual, tattoo- specialist heroine...Mr. Francis has delivered not only a sexy and spectacular heroine but given depth, emotion and memorable personalities to the many faces found in the supporting cast that give life to this paranormal tale." --Bitten By Books

" incredible tale ...colorful and vivid...I am now officially hooked on this series and can't wait to see what else is going to go on in the life of Dakota Frost." -- Ruthie's Book Reviews


1. Dakota Frost

I first started wearing a Mohawk to repel low-lifes—barflies, vampires, Republicans, and so on—but when I found my true profession my hairstyle turned into an ad. People's eyes are drawn by it—no longer a true Mohawk, but a big, unruly deathhawk—a stripe of feathered black, purple and white streaks climbing down the center of my head—but their gazes linger on the tattoos, which start as tribal vines in the shaved spaces on either side of the 'hawk, and then cascade down my throat to my shoulders, flowering into roses and jewels and butterflies.

Their colors are so vivid, their details so sharp many people mistake them for body paint, or assume that they can't have been done in the States. Yes, they're real; no, they're not Japanese—they're all, with a few exceptions, done by my own hand, right here in Atlanta at the Rogue Unicorn in Little Five Points. Drop by—I'll ink you. Ask for Dakota Frost.

To attract the more... perceptive... eye, I started wearing a sleeveless, ankle-length leather coat-vest that shows off the intricate designs on my arms, and a cutoff top and low-rider jeans that show off a tribal yin-yang symbol on my midriff. Tying it all together is the black tail of something big, curling up the left side of my neck, looping around the yin-yang, and arcing through the leaves on my right shoulder. Most people think it's the tail of a dragon, and they wouldn't be wrong; in case anyone misses the point, I even have the design sewn into the back of a few of my vests.

Those who live on the edge might notice a little more detail: magical runes woven into the tribal designs, working charms woven into the flowers, and, if you look real close at the tail of the dragon, the slow movement of a symbolic familiar. Yes, it did move; and yes, that's real magic. Drop by the Rogue Unicorn—you're still asking for the one- and-only Dakota Frost, the best magical tattooist in the Southeast.

The downside to being a walking ad, of course, is that some of the folks you want to attract start to see you as a scary low-life. We all know that vampires can turn out to be quite decent folk, but so can clean-cut young Republicans looking for their first tattoo to impress their tree-hugger girlfriends. As for barflies, well, they're still barflies; but unfortunately I find the more tats I show the greater the chance that the cops will throw me into the back of the van, too, if a bar fight breaks out.

So I couldn't help being nervous as two officers marched me into City Hall East.

City Hall East is in the old Sears building on Ponce de Leon, a great brick fortress squeezed between the empty parking lot that used to serve the Masquerade dance club and the full one that serves the Borders bookstore. Once it buzzed with activity, but now, in 2006, it's like a tomb, soon to be demolished and turned into yet another mixed-use development as part of the new Belt Line project. Even the snack shop has closed. This is the last year of the grand old building's spooky incarnation as a kind of lonely government outpost. All that's left here are a few Atlanta Police Department offices, more offices for the Feds, and some for permits and land planning.

And lots of police officers, more than I expected for that time of night, most of them scowling. Lots of them, muttering: Look at her? What's she in for? Is she a stripper? If she's under arrest, why isn't she cuffed? The two officers escorting me—one black, one white, both wearing identical buzz cuts—had no answers, for them, or for me. Just: The police need to see you, Miss Frost. No, you're not under arrest, but it is urgent. Please come with us.

Our footsteps echoed hollowly as we walked through a canyon of white tile and glass walls towards the metal detectors. There had briefly been a gallery and shops on this floor, but now empty offices surrounded us like cages, only a few showing signs of life.

We paused before the metal detectors, where a fat female officer sat, right hand pumping on her mouse in what could only be Minesweeper. "Anything to declare, Miss Frost?” she asked.

"Frost?” Beyond the barrier, a sharply dressed, Kojak-bald black plainclothes officer perked up at the sound of my name: Andre Rand, my dad's best friend. "Dakota Frost?”

"No, I've nothing to declare,” I said, trying to ignore him as he stalked briskly towards me. The woman waved me in, and I swept through the metal detector just in time for him to corner me. I sighed, folded my arms, and stared down at the black man. He was tall, but I was taller. Wonderful. He'd known I was coming—and probably engineered this whole thing.

"Dakota,” he said, voice forced cheeriness, sparkling eyes genuine. He was twice my age—I'd bounced on his knee when he and my father had been partners—but he was still a fashion plate, if you go in for the whole GQ look. "Your dad will be glad to hear you're doing well—”

"Hey, Rand,” I said, smiling, shaking my head—half at his infectious grin and half at whatever he was planning. "Let's get this over with. Where is he, and when did he get in? You know, I do have a cell phone. He could call me. There's no need for the goon squad—”

Rand's face fell. "I—your dad's not here, Dakota. We needed to see you.”

"We?” I asked.

Rand's face went stony, blank. "Homicide, Dakota. Homicide needs to see you.”

We got in the elevator and Rand punched the sixth floor, motioning to me to join him in the back. The officers—big men, almost my height—stepped in front of me, making me feel even more like a prisoner... or perhaps someone being guarded? But the guard theory evaporated when a sandy-haired older man slipped past the officers and joined us in the back of the elevator, leering at me and nodding to Rand.

"Hey, you old cockroach,” he said. After a moment his eyes slid to me, my tattooed arms, and my bare midriff, then forward to the officers. "Forgot to pay your fees?” he leered.

"What the fuck?” I asked.

"Miss Frost isn't here for floor five, Jack,” Rand said. "She's working with me.”

"Well lucky you,” the man said, slapping his shoulder. He caught my pissed-off, puzzled look and shrugged, with the conspiratorial leer suppressed but still trying to peek out. "Floor five is where you get your stripper license.”

"And fuck you too,” I said.

"We don't license for that,” Rand said, deadpan.

"I'm just saying, girl, you could do the job if you wanted.”

"Which one?” one of the officers said, and the other one chuckled.

"Floor five is also where you get your license to do magical tattoos,” I snapped, "which always sounds funny until you wake up with a working asshole tattooed on your forehead.”

Suddenly the cab got quiet. The two officers stiffened up, and Rand jammed his hands into his pockets and leaned against the back wall of the cab. He was trying to look pissed, but he looked so hot he came off more as a brooding GQ model.

But the sandy-haired Jack was staring at the officers, suddenly serious. "Cut the boys a little slack,” he warned me. "Things are crazy. You don't want to go to jail tonight, do you?”

"Kind of feels like it,” I said.

"Nobody's going to jail tonight, unless it's you, Jack,” Rand said.

"Already been,” Jack replied, not the least bit perturbed. "Second time this week—”

"Oh, no,” Rand said. "Don't tell me your boys messed up bookings—”

"Nope,” Jack said, grinning, "one of your boys tripped a power cord. Again.

"Jeezus,” I said, abruptly hot under the collar. One of the only college jobs I'd enjoyed had been lab tech, and I couldn't stand people who fucked up my computers. "You should set up a webcam to find out who's doing it.”

Jack blinked at me. Then smiled and said, "Not a bad idea, for a girl.”

And just when I was starting to warm up to him. "Blow me, you old cockroach.”

The doors opened, and Jack just grinned. "Not a bad idea either.” Jack strolled out to the right and began beeping a door's keypad, and we followed.

Once again our footsteps echoed hollowly down a long, narrow corridor. On the left were conference rooms and APD offices, but on the right was a long wall of tinted glass with a Fed-smelling seal engraved on it. Behind one window I saw a figure standing; as I drew closer I saw dark sunglasses and a devilish goatee. Sunglasses, at night. Come on.

We paused before another keycoded door, and I became acutely aware that the man behind the glass was checking me out, staring at me, sipping his government coffee. Finally, I looked over and saw a trim form inside a crisp black suit. He was looking straight back at me, raising his cup towards me in salute, his smile not a leer but... appreciation?

Jack opened the door with a beep beep beep, strolled in and disappeared into a warren of ratty old cubicles. We followed him through, and the door closed behind us. I looked back at the big, knobbly lock. I was sure you could get out without the code, but... it still slowly swung shut with a solid click, and I felt trapped.

In moments I was in a plain white "evidence” room, looking down on a salt-and-pepper haired, Greek-looking officer improbably named Vincent Balducci, seated at a large table in front of a large manila folder. There was a side door to the right, and a huge mirror dominated the rest of the wall. If you squinted you could just see the blinking light of a camera, or maybe a video recorder, and I felt the invisible presence of a dark figure somewhere behind the glass. Maybe I was imagining it, but, come on, I've seen this movie before.

"Taller than I expected, Miss Frost,” Balducci said, not moving to greet me as I sat down. My long leather vestcoat shhhed against the tile as I settled into the chair, but after that, the only noise was the hum of the air conditioning.

Rand was seated at the edge of the table, naturally, easily, like an Armani model dressed on a police officer's salary, but losing none of the class. Finally he seemed to lose patience with Balducci and said, "Show her.”

"This is pointless,” Balducci said. "She can't tell us anything that—”

"Chickening out?” Abruptly Rand flipped the manila folder open and turned it towards me, then stood and staring at the glass. "What can you tell us about this?”

Curious, I stared at the picture: it was a bad photocopy of a circular design, some kind of braided wreath with a chain and a snake eating its own tail. Big black blotches covered the upper quarter of the design, but after a moment I puzzled out what I was looking at. "This is flash,” I said. At Balducci's puzzled look, I explained: "A tattoo design, or a part of one.”

Balducci nodded dismissively. "Told you,” he said to Rand.

"And?” Rand asked.

"And... you need to tone the contrast down on your copier?” I said. It was half blotted out... but then I realized it wasn't a photocopy, but some kind of printout of an image, posterized to the point that it was almost illegible, with large-brush black blotches of a digital pen redacting some of the details. But it still had that distinctive natural look that meant it had started life as a photograph, not a drawing.

"This isn't flash,” I said. "It's an actual tattoo.”

"Told you,” Rand said.

As my eyes studied it I became suspicious. The reproduction was terrible, but something about the wreath and chain had the flavor of a magical glyph. What if it was magical? These mundanes would have no way of knowing. But how could I tell from this printout? "Do you have a better picture? No—a different picture?”

Balducci sighed, and slipped another piece of paper out of the folder. A similar shot, similarly degraded, but... I put the two next to each other and planted my hands on the table, staring down upon them. After a moment I saw it: the head of a snake in the design was three links past the belt of the chain in one, and five in the next. It was moving.

"This is magical,” I said. "This tattoo is moving. It's a magical mark.”

"Told you,” Rand said triumphantly.

"Holy—” Balducci breathed. I looked up, and saw him not looking at the flash, but at my hands. "Hers are doing it too. I swear the fucking butterfly flapped.”

"What, did you think they only moved after?” Rand asked.

"What do you mean, after?” I asked. No one said anything, and my stomach suddenly clenched up. "What do you mean, after? You don't mean, like, after death—”

"I can't discuss the details of an ongoing investigation,” Balducci said.

"Why did we bring her here if not to discuss it?” Rand said.

"It was your idea,” Balducci said. "She's your old partner's daughter—”

The side door opened.

The dark-suited Fed I had seen in the hall walked out. His crisp goatee and short wavy hair made him look more like an evil Johnny Depp than a laid-back agent Mulder. One hand was in his pocket, the other still holding the cup of coffee. In his dextrous fingers, the Styrofoam cup looked like alabaster.

"Show her,” he said, with unassuming authority. "Or quit wasting our time.”

Balducci looked up, at a loss. "You've got ‘it,'” he said.

The Fed just looked at me, mouth quirking into a smile, at which point Balducci touched his head in a "senior moment” gesture, then hit the intercom. "Rogers,” he said. "You got ‘it'? Yeah. Bring ‘it.'”

After a moment, a tall, drawn man stepped out of a back door I hadn't noticed, gingerly holding a large, white plastic envelope with the same Fed logo on it. The cadaverous man paused in the white light of the doorway for a moment, eyes twitching as he saw me—not unfriendly, but... in pity? Then I noticed a long plastic tray in the man's other hand, and saw the padded envelope bulging with something.

I suddenly didn't want to see ‘it.'

The Fed touched his left ear for a moment, then turned to go. "Aren't you going to stay?” I asked nervously. I wasn't quite sure why I was asking him for reassurance, but there it was.

He paused. "I've seen ‘it,'” he said, and stepped into the blackness.

The tray clattered against the table, shockingly close to my hands, and Balducci and I both leaned back a little. The evidence technician, if that's what cadaver man was, put on a pair of blue gloves before opening the envelope and withdrawing a smaller, plastic-wrapped object. "Even though it is wrapped,” he said, putting it in the tray, "it would help if you do not touch it.”

My skin grew cold.

It was a ripped piece of human skin pinned to a stained wood board.

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